I have to say, I was intrigued. Fairphone? Was the clue in the name? Did it mean Fairtrade or organic? Was it both? How do you make an organic phone? And what would it mean to be Fairtrade in mobile technology terms? I have to say I don’t know how the production line actually works but do realise that growing a banana it is not.
I rang Roos van de Weerd from Fairphone’s public engagement team on my non-ethically produced landline with all my questions, which were answered in great length and with greater patience.
Fairphone started out with five employees, and now it’s already sold 20,000 handsets and is shipping out the second batch of 25,000 as I write. And the company is based in Amsterdam. Yes, you read it right. The Amsterdam that is in The Netherlands and is famous for clogs, cheese and, erm, interesting nightlife.
‘We always get surprised looks and exclamations,’ says Roos from her Amsterdam office. ‘But, you see, we were not a mobile phone company to start with!’
They had had the idea for over two years, before they did something ‘naïve and cute’ (her words, not mine): they started a Kickstarter project.
They needed to get orders for 5,000 phones at 325 Euros each to reach their goal. It took just three weeks. They ended up selling 10,000. And this is before they even drew an outline of a phone on paper.
‘We never wanted to be active competitors to the big players in the field but wanted to be disruptive. A fair economy built with ethical values is our goal,’ says Roos.
With the money in the bank and a six-month deadline, they got to work. And that started with trying to source material that came from conflict-free zones. Fairness to the company also means making the phone dual-SIM, as well as reducing waste. The phone doesn’t come with a charger or headphones - the idea being that most people have those already!
‘We were strategically naïve and jumped into a field that we had no experience of and have been very dependent on our very active community of over 70,000 members. We want to scale up gradually and expand slowly. We have 30 employees now and we do not want to make easy mistakes that others make.’
Right from the packaging, with stamps from the countries that Fairphone has a footprint in, to the postcards that come included to the open-source repair manuals and 3D printed covers - it seems like a really good idea, but will the smartphone sell?
A browse through the specs sheet reveals a quad-core processor, 8-megapixel camera, 16GB of internal memory expandable to 64GB, and it runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean… not bad at all!
Full of good intentions and reasonably sound specs it might be, but the Fairphone is not cheap… Let’s face it, Fairtrade isn’t meant to be cheap. Although it costs 310 Euros, be prepared for a variety of taxes when it gets to British shores including VAT @20% - and delivery takes 1-4 months.
Would you be buying one?
(Fairphone has been nominated for the Nominet Trust 100 that recognises projects and/or organisations that deserve to be recognised for their impact on society through the use of digital technology. You can vote for them here: http://socialtech.org.uk/projects/fairphone/ More here: socialtech.org.uk)